When my next-door neighbour discovered she couldn’t have children, I offered to carry them for her

When my next-door neighbour discovered she couldn’t have children, I offered to carry them for her

Kennedy and Madison, the surrogate twins the author carried for her neighbour.

I met my friend Lauren six years ago, when she and her husband, Justin, moved into the house next door. We live on a quiet street in Georgetown, the kind of place where everyone knows everyone. My husband, Chris, quickly struck up a friendship with Justin, and pretty soon we were all spending nearly every Saturday night together. Our daughter Hannah was a year old at the time, and we’d often go over after she fell asleep and drink wine around their firepit—the baby monitor worked just fine at their place.

In 2011, I became pregnant with twins, and Lauren discovered she was expecting their first baby soon after. We couldn’t wait to raise our kids together, but tragedy struck when she hit the 23-week mark: she went into early labour, and the doctors couldn’t stop it. She delivered a baby boy who died a few hours after being born. It turned out Lauren had an “incompetent cervix”—the unfortunate medical term for a cervix that’s too weak to withstand the pressure of a fetus, and opens prematurely. When I delivered my girls, Charlotte and Claire, in June 2012, Lauren did her best to be happy for me, but it was hard for her. I felt guilty that I had three healthy children and she had none.

Lauren became pregnant again just two months after losing her son—the doctors put a stitch into her cervix to help prevent it from opening up. Once again, she went into premature labour at 23 weeks. Once again, she delivered a baby boy. And once again, he died a few hours later. I thought, how can this happen to one person? After she lost her second baby, the doctors told her she could get another stitch in her cervix, but she refused. She couldn’t go through it again.

The author’s neighbours, Justin (holding Kennedy) and Lauren (holding Madison). The author’s neighbours, Justin (holding Kennedy) and Lauren (holding Madison).

As Lauren and Justin grieved, I got an idea: what if I carried a baby for them? I’d loved being pregnant, but I was done having my own kids. It seemed like the perfect solution. When I floated the idea, Lauren laughed it off. “I wouldn’t ask that of you,” she kept saying. “I couldn’t do that to your family.” My husband agreed with her: every time I brought it up, he would tell me I was crazy. After a couple of months, however, I made it clear I was serious. It wasn’t something I’d do for just anyone, but I was determined to help Lauren—and in August 2013, she finally agreed to let me.

Before we began trying, the four of us met with a lawyer and drafted a 35-page document that laid out the rules of our arrangement. It was a standard surrogacy contract, stipulating that I couldn’t leave the country in my third trimester, that I wouldn’t drink alcohol or consume too much caffeine, and that Lauren would accompany me to all of my doctors’ appointments and prenatal classes. We agreed that she would pay for my mileage and babysitters when I drove to appointments, and buy me any clothes or special foods I needed. The funniest clause was one that demanded that Chris and I couldn’t have extramarital affairs during the pregnancy. Once the paperwork was complete, the clinic fertilized 10 of Lauren’s eggs with Justin’s sperm in October 2013, then implanted two embryos into my uterus a few days later. The next month, I found out I was pregnant with twins.

The author with her husband, Chris, and their three daughters, Charlotte, Hannah and Claire. The author with her husband, Chris, and their three daughters, Charlotte, Hannah and Claire.

My husband was worried that I’d have trouble giving up the babies once they were born, but I knew it wouldn’t be a problem. I did everything in my power to keep an emotional distance from the babies. When I was pregnant with my daughters, I would rub my belly, play music and read stories. This time I avoided those activities. Whenever anyone asked me if I was expecting, I’d be upfront about my situation right away. I didn’t let myself fall into the idea that I was going to be a mother again.

I wasn’t bonding with the babies, but Lauren was. We spent almost every night together, watching The Bachelor or going out for dinner or painting pottery. At night, when the babies would kick, I’d call her and she’d FaceTime with my belly, talking and singing to her kids. At least once a week, she’d go out and get me a cone from Dairy Queen or a Slurpee from 7-Eleven in the middle of the night.

On the morning of July 2, 2014, I headed to the hospital for a scheduled C-section (that’s how I delivered my other kids). For the first time, it wasn’t Chris in the delivery room with me, but Lauren. It was an easy surgery, and within a couple of hours I had delivered two girls, Kennedy and Madison. The next day, Lauren and Justin brought them into the recovery room to meet me. Somehow, it was like my body knew they weren’t mine—my breasts didn’t engorge and my milk never came in.

The girls will be two in July—they’re talking, running around, playing with my four-year-old twins. They call me Auntie Sam, and I babysit them two afternoons a week. It has been incredible to watch Lauren raise the babies she always wanted, and to see how happy I was able to make her. We still spend nearly every weekend with her and Justin—only now they bring their baby monitor over to our house.

Samantha McIntosh is a stay-at-home mom in Georgetown, Ontario. memoir@torontolife.com

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